Ghana

A week in Ghana is really not long enough, I don’t want to leave. But I came here with a mind cluttered with thoughts and stresses and will return home with slightly more simplicity, so for that I am grateful. I hope it lasts.

What strikes me most as I start the long drive back to the airport with Joan, is that seven days ago we did this same journey as strangers and now we do it as friends. Where there was silence (and sleep) before there is now chatter and laughter. She holds my hand and prays that we’ll see each other again. I do too.

For me, this trip has been about the people I’ve met.

With places like “Anointed hair salon”, “Glory Oil Station” and “Faith Cosmetics”  it’s not hard to see that Ghana is a well-churched nation. Signs on the back of vehicles read “God is love” and your children might go to “Christ Prince of Peace School”. There are countless signs to nearby churches and you’re never too far away from the sounds of gospel songs and tambourines! But deeply ingrained in the christian thinking around these parts is a belief in law-based salvation; if I follow the ten commandments and try to live a good life then I’ll go to heaven – I need to be good enough to get in. So, in the town of Ho, in the Volta region, its refreshing to find a grace-filled church full of dedicated and amazing people who are giving their lives to serving others and spreading the story of undeserved grace.

I have to admit that I arrived in Ghana not entirely in the right frame of mind. The week leading up to the trip had been a bit difficult and I had other things on my mind. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks/months and my brain was just on overload. But still…there’s nothing like a good trip to the African continent to put my mind in focus again. I could honestly live in almost any African country – if you haven’t ever been out there I highly recommend it!

The things that usually strike me as I travel have become more normal to me now; the sense of community, the people-first attitude, the selflessness, the way they don’t seem to fuss about the trivial stuff in life but worry only about the things that actually matter. It’s good to be back. I think I smile more in Africa.

On one of the days we went to a little rural community called Tafi Mador, and while walking around I met a lovely Christian couple named David and Elizabeth. I’d spoken with lots of other people that day but these two seemed special and I just loved sitting and chatting with them. (It’s been great spending my days with no other agenda than to talk to people and build relationships – what a satisfying and meaningful task!) As we got up to leave I asked if I could pray with them, and with an enthusiastic “yes” David pulled his trousers away from his feet to reveal severely swollen legs and scars from an operation. He couldn’t walk without crutches because of the pain. We sat down and prayed with them, listening to David’s enthusiastic “amen” every couple of seconds. I chose to believe he was just agreeing with me as I spoke rather than trying to make me end my prayer.

I really wanted his foot to get better. As I prayed I found myself almost begging God to bring healing. I found myself trying to convince God that he really liked to heal people and that he’d done it before and could do it again. I stared at his ankle, willing the swelling to go down with my prayers. I was feeling quite desperate for something to happen, I really needed God to show up. And while my voice continued praying I felt my heart sinking. I sat wondering if things would be different if someone else was praying for him instead of me – someone with more faith. It’s no lie to say that I somewhat fluctuate in my faith at times – I go through moments of believing I can move mountains and moments of feeling like I’m talking to thin air and getting nowhere. With the recent strains and muddles of life it’s fair to say that I’ve been on the side of lesser-faith more recently and have just felt exhausted by everything. I sat there feeling inadequate and slightly sorry for this poor couple who had ended up with me praying for them instead of someone with bigger and better faith…and someone who could actually concentrate while praying.

Somehow, I’d made things about me. I really wanted his foot to get better, but more because I wanted to be assured of God’s ability to heal people and to build my faith than for his sake at that point. I wanted the testimony of the miraculous for my benefit not his. How sad. How selfish.

As I sat there I remembered something John had reminded us of the evening before about truly loving the people we met and not just having nice conversations and then leaving. Truly Love Them. What did that look like? What did that mean here? I realised I didn’t really know how to love these people all that well because my mind was just too focussed on myself and my needs – nothing new there. How do you make yourself stop thinking about yourself? Why is it SO hard to love other people authentically sometimes? My rationale is usually that I need to address my own needs before I can focus on others; I need to be filled up before I can give out else I might end up running on empty – I might not have enough for me. While I think there is definitely a time and place to stop doing some things and make sure you’ve giving yourself what you need, I don’t think we are called to live in that place. I think we’re called to give to others regardless of our lack and trust that our needs will be taken care of.

Mark 12: 41-44
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live  on.”

At that moment mine was emotional poverty. I felt emotionally drained and empty and didn’t want to give anymore of myself to anybody. I had needs that weren’t being met and I thought that was a good enough excuse not to be focussed on the needs of others. It wasn’t. It’s never going to be. For some, being selfless is easy but for others its not. I don’t think it comes all that naturally to me. Honestly. I have to really make a decision to put others first; my natural inclination is selfishness.

Romans 12:10
Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.

That’s a tall order. But I want to learn to love others better and to give out of my lack, whether financial, time, energy, emotion or whatever else it is that I feel I’m needing more of and therefore don’t have enough to give to others. I want to understand that I’m called to be selfless with what I have and know that although it can – and should – be costly at times, I wont regret investing more in others and considering their needs before my own.

The story ends with a happy and cheerful David and Elizabeth. No immediate healing, but they loved having someone sit and talk with them a while. I took their photo and told them that every time I look at it I’ll pray for them. Something shifted in me as I walked off and I was able to take the focus a little more away from myself and towards others. It’s baby steps I’m sure, but its progress.

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